What is a CCTV Camera?

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  • Written By: Caitlin Kenney
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2019
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A CCTV camera, or closed circuit television camera, is a technology in which video cameras in one place are linked to monitors, or television screens, in a predetermined location. In contrast to broadcast television and digital television, which use radio or digital transmissions to deliver images non-specifically to many locations, a CCTV camera has a fixed connection to the monitors. The connection may be made through wiring or a scrambled radio transmission that is reorganized by the receiver. This technology is frequently employed in video surveillance.

Though CCTV is most commonly used in the United Kingdom for security purposes, it was first used in Germany to monitor the launching of rockets during WWII. First designed by Walter Bruch, a German engineer famous for his invention of color television, the technology continues to be used to locate problems in rocket launches. In the late 1960s, police began planting CCTV cameras along streets to protect businesses and the public from crime. Today, they are often installed in banks, stores, casinos, malls, and on some private properties. They may also be used to watch and regulate industrial processes, monitor traffic, and supervise public buses, trains, or subways.


A CCTV camera may be equipped with many special features, such as the ability to tilt, pan across the room, or pick up images in the dark. A modern CCTV camera can also pick up color, get accurate pictures of small objects at large distances, or make use of video content analysis (VCA). VCA links the camera to a computer, which can then search the video for suspicious activities or specific targets; for example, a red van or a person that loitered near the site of a crime. Other features that can be applied to such videos include facial recognition and biometrics, which are used, imperfectly, to identify individuals by facial features or movements. These cameras are often managed from a control room in another part of the building or in another building entirely.

The widening use of CCTV surveillance has been a controversial issue that sometimes pits security against privacy. While the CCTV camera has been useful in preventing crime, speeding up the process of finding, charging, and convicting criminals, and combating terrorism, it has also met with civil liberties concerns. Critics of CCTV fear that video surveillance could be used as a form of social control, much in the way of COINTELPRO, a defunct U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) program that used surveillance as part of many, often illegal, projects to investigate and derail dissident political organizations, civil liberties groups, and hate groups. Others simply argue that the presence of CCTV is intrusive and imparts a feeling of being watched, resulting in a fearful and submissive populace. This phenomenon was described in George Orwell’s book 1984, in which the public was controlled by video surveillance and the threat that “Big Brother,” the dictator, was monitoring them.


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